War and Russian Studies in the West[1]

War and Russian Studies in the West[1]

Tomasz Kamusella
University of St Andrews

Идеология Русского мира –
идеология мира и добра.

The ideology of the Russian World is
the ideology of peace and goodness.[2]

Dalszŏ tajla artykułu niżyj

Vladimir Kochin (2016)
Executive Director
of the Russkiy Mir
(Russian World) Foundation

Russia’s 2022 unprovoked and unjustified full-scale invasion of peaceful Ukraine compels the rest of the world to rethink their relations with this country. A global consensus was swiftly reached to condemn the Russian onslaught.[3] After the immediate imposition of sanctions on Russia,[4] the West dragged their feet, before deciding to help and assist Ukraine militarily.[5] It was done in recognition of the fact that this country is fighting to protect liberty and democracy in all of Europe.[6] Subsequently, the European Union[7] and the United States[8] have extended unprecedented multiple packages of humanitarian, economic and military aid to Ukraine. On top of that, Brussels conferred on Ukraine the official status of an EU candidate state.[9] Yet, the process of disentangling the EU from structural dependency on Russian gas and oil proves painfully slow and contentious.[10],[11] This dependency makes it possible for the Kremlin to blackmail individual EU member states, seeking to destabilize al the Union.[12] What is more, EU member states’ payments for Russian carbohydrates still dwarf any help given to Ukraine. Hence, the increasing stream of billions of Euros and Dollars flowing each day from the EU to Russia under sanctions in reality finances the country’s war machine, including its war on Ukraine.[13]

 

Culture as a Battlefield

At present, the West is playing catch-up[14] with Russia’s cyberwarfare capacities and preparedness.[15] With all the aforementioned geopolitical trump cards unthinkingly given away to Russia, the West allows itself to be wagged by an economic midget, since Russia’s GDP is 13 times smaller than the EU’s.[16],[17] But culture as a battlefield[18] still remains a blind spot in all these Western efforts to assist Ukraine under the genocidal-scale[19] Russian attack. In this manner, the West is – consciously or not – coming to the succor of the Kremlin and its anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian propaganda and actions. For instance, the Russian World (Russkii Mir) centers continue operating unhindered across the world, not coincidentally, most of them located in the European Union.[20] There are as many as ten such centers in the small but strongly pro-Russian Bulgaria and eight in Germany with its three million Russian-speakers,[21] while only three in the United States and none in Canada or Ireland.[22] It is telling that despite the Kremlin’s positioning of Russia as a leader and friend of the global South,[23] in all of Africa, only four Russkii Mir centers are present, while none in Bangladesh, India or Pakistan.[24]

For way too long the West has been blind and passive toward Russia’s enemy operations pursued under the cover of soft power, that is, in the guise of ‘cultural and linguistic cooperation.’[25] In addition, Russian studies continue to be practiced in Western universities, mostly as they were before the fall of communism. As though meanwhile nothing has happened, as if the Soviet Union had not fallen and fractured into the 15 successor states. Yet, the field’s disciplinary and curriculum structure remains as it used to be during the Cold War. Being so obsolete, it is not fit for purpose. Even worse, flying on this Cold War autopilot means that unwittingly Western universities conduct research on things Russian and post-Soviet in accordance with the logic and goals of the Kremlin’s ideology of Russian world. The Russian government must be delighted.

 

Russian Studies as the Core of Area Studies

Prior to the fall of communism, there was just a single polity in the world where Russian was an official language, namely, the Soviet Union. What is more, following World War II, all the globe’s Slavophone polities (with a partial exception of Yugoslavia) found themselves under Soviet control. Moscow extended and enforced its rule over the Soviet bloc through the Warsaw Pact and Comecon (or the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance). Not a single Soviet satellite had any illusions about who was the bloc’s military, economic and ideological hegemon. In practice, the SU was another incarnation of the Russian Empire, but the name.

Area studies – as a group of geographically, culturally and linguistically delimited fields and subfields of frequently multidisciplinary research – were founded in the 1940s by the United States with an eye to countering the military and ideological threat posed by the Soviet Union.[26] Research of this type was to inform Western activities undertaken in line with US President Harry Truman’s worldwide policy of containing the Soviet Union and other communist countries.[27] For the sake of stopping the potential expansion of the Soviet bloc, the West’s priority in research was to train scholars and linguists fluent in Russian and knowledgeable about the Soviet customs and conditions.[28] From the geopolitical perspective, other Slavic languages (and cultures) were of some importance only when employed as official languages in the Soviet bloc countries, for instance, Bulgarian in Bulgaria, Czech and Slovak in Czechoslovakia, and Polish in Poland. Yet, during the Cold War, the study of Belarusian and Ukrainian languages and cultures was neglected in the West, because in the Soviet Union political decisions were not taken in Mensk or Kyiv, but invariably in imperial Moscow. A similar situation could be observed in the approach of area studies practitioners toward Yugoslavia that after 1948 chose the middle path of the Non-Aligned Movement. The study of Yugoslavia’s state language of Serbo-Croatian was privileged over the republican languages of Macedonian and Slovenian.

Tellingly, the first-ever research institute in area studies was the Russian Institute, founded in 1946 at Columbia University[29] (in 1982, it was renamed after entrepreneur and New York Governor W. Averell Harriman[30]). This Russian-centric model was emulated elsewhere in the West, including Japan.[31] As a result, to this day, in the West’s non-Slavophone countries, the majority of university departments of Slavic studies actually focus on Russian language and culture. Even if other Slavic languages are on offer, students are required to master Russian first, before progressing to Czech or Serbo-Croatian.[32] In effect, Russian is positioned – without saying this openly – as the gate-keeper language for all Slavic studies, thus relegating all the other Slavic languages to the second place.

At present, university education is talked about in business-like terms, so one can often hear the supposedly matter-of-fact argument that it is students who choose and prefer Russian over other Slavic languages. In the West, Russian is usually seen as a ‘big language,’ because it is spoken by around 156 million, and functions as an official language or an idiom of everyday communication in the 15 post-Soviet countries, alongside Germany, Israel and Mongolia.[33] Yet, it is conveniently forgotten that it was a political decision, which established the field of Slavic-vel-Russian studies as we know them today, not any pecuniary or investment consideration. Had Columbia University not given Russian the pride of place in area studies, nowadays, Russian would have been a niche interest in the West, as it was before World War II.

On the other hand, in university departments of Germanic languages (and cultures), students are not made to study German or English first, before continuing with the study of their beloved Dutch or Swedish. From day one, if a student selects Swedish, she can focus on this language alone. Not a single Germanic language is posed as more important than the others or let alone is elevated to the position of some gatekeeper for all the other Germanic languages. If this laisses faire approach makes economic sense in the case of the Germanic languages, then there is no need to privilege Russian over other Slavic languages in Western universities, either.

 

Great Russian Literature?

This unreflective privileging of Russian nowadays in Western universities gives Moscow a specious but tangible argument to ‘justify’ their current disparaging denial of Ukrainian as a language[34] and brushing off the other Slavic languages as ‘second-rank.’[35] From a geopolitical perspective, the curious situation also constitutes a solid cornerstone for furthering Russian influence and propaganda in the West. Resigning from rethinking and redesigning the shape of area studies as inherited from the Cold War opened the West with its own hands to enemy penetration from resurgent neo-imperial Russia. It is an easy and cost-effective option for the Kremlin to instill and strengthen the Russian world ideology across the West, because North American and European universities have already done most of the necessary spadework for such enemy implantation in thinking, values and attitudes.

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Incongruously, Western universities even welcome the situation as a positive sign of (multi)cultural cooperation,[36],[37],[38] notwithstanding Moscow’s insistence on Russia’s exclusive right to control over the Russian language, both in Russia and outside this country.[39] Somehow, Western Russia-watchers failed to note the Kremlin’s progressive weaponization of Russian[40] for hybrid warfare abroad[41],[42] and a renewed campaign of Russification at home.[43],[44] Yet, for over a decade Russian officials have been honest and open about trying to expand their country’s borders aggressively to include all the adjacent areas with the Russian-speaking populations.[45] And even further, since they see all the Slavophone Orthodox Christian populaces (alongside the Romance-speaking Romanians and Moldovans[46]), the former Soviet bloc countries and the tsarist empire’s territories (including Alaska[47]) as properly belonging to Russia.[48]

The uncritical and even worshipful attitude toward Russian language and culture[49] made the West blind to the Kremlin’s neo-imperial designs. It also convinced many pundits to consent with the widespread Russian opinion that Ukrainian is a small and unimportant language not worth their attention. That no literature of value could be created in Ukrainian.[50] That among the Slavic idioms, only Russian is the proper language of ‘great literature,’[51],[52] though some pieces of note were written in Czech, Polish or Serbo-Croatian, as confirmed by Nobel prizes in literature for authors writing in these languages.

This Russian patriotic self-promotion reached a crescendo[53] during the ongoing unprovoked and unjustified war that Russia wages on peaceful Ukraine. The context is all the economic sanctions that the West has already piled up on belligerent Russia[54] and the paradoxical Russian conviction that their language supposedly faces mortal danger.[55] The sanctions evoked a widespread discussion in the West whether similar curbs could or should be imposed on Russian culture.[56],[57],[58] Predictably, Russian commentators[59] and Western critics of this approach claim that neither Leo Tolstoy or Fyodor Dostoyevsky are guilty of the 2022 Russian onslaught on Ukraine.[60],[61],[62] This is true, they are not. Yet, the Kremlin has abused Russian literature and culture by weaponizing them, like the Russian language, for spreading Russian influence in the occupied Ukrainian territories and worldwide.[63],[64],[65] On top of that, the Kremlin speciously claims that seven billion people out of the globe’s population of 7.7 billion support Russia’s war on Ukraine.[66]

Hence, now, in the current standoff between Russia and Ukraine supported by the West, Russian books and music performances are not neutral products of culture. The Kremlin seeks to shame Western proposers of a more critical approach to Russian language, culture and literature, so that to keep open its well-established and cheap channel of influence across the West.[67],[68] Many Western observers believe that it may be alright for Ukraine under Russian attack to limit the use of Russian in administration, culture, book production and everyday life,[69] but the West should abstain from imposing similar limitations.[70],[71]

But are Russian literature and culture so ‘big’ that no counterparts in other Slavic languages could match them? Well, Western savants of belles lettres appreciate Bulgarian, Czech, Macedonian, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Slovak or Slovenian literature, but typically know next to nothing about Ukrainian or Belarusian literature. Yet, the quality, and volume of ‘literary production’ in Ukrainian is on par with that in Polish. It is not surprising, given that at 40 million there are as many Ukrainian-speakers as Polish-speakers. In the ranking of numbers of speakers, among the Slavic languages, Ukrainian and Polish share the second position after Russian.

 

Ukrainian Literature is Great, Too

However, it took the shock of the ongoing war to shake some Western specialists and publishers specializing in Ukrainian books out of complacency and unthinking kowtowing to the stereotype of great Russian literature. In 2022, to its purely scholarly book series ‘Library of Early Ukrainian Literature,’ Harvard University Press added the brand-new one, namely, the ‘Library of Ukrainian Literature.’ It is devoted to the best Ukrainian-language modern fiction and poetry and aims at the general reader in North America and Britain.[72] The series may be a portent of a long overdue change, a balancing act of inclusion.

Simultaneously, the adulation of Russian literature should be cut down to size. After all, Tolstoy and other Russian writers faithfully served in their country’s imperial armies, while Dostoyevsky incorporated in his fiction verbatim fragments from his rabidly pro-imperial journalism and diaries.[73] Curiously, in the flagship works of Russian literature one cannot really find ethnically non-Russian characters. The canon is homogenously Russian (Russkii) from the ethnic, linguistic and cultural perspective, that is, Orthodox, Russian-speaking, patriarchal, heteronormative, and relentlessly white.[74] Literature experts in Russia find it outrageous[75] that foreign scholars of Afro-American studies may label Alexander Pushkin as a black poet.[76]

Yet, we know that ethnic Russians constituted barely over 40 percent of the population in late tsarist Russia,[77] reaching the mark of half of the inhabitants only in the territorially diminished Soviet Union.[78] Such ethnic Russians added up to a mere fifth of the empire’s entire nobility.[79] And among Russia’s nobles not more than half spoke Russian at home.[80] The entire imperial elite shared the same sociolect of French (and much later, to a degree, Russian), though in their regions of origin spoke and wrote German, Georgian, Polish, Swedish, Tatar or Yiddish. Actually, few Russian-speakers lived in the tsarist empire’s western and southern cities of Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Mensk, Warsaw, Kyiv, Chișinău, Tbilisi, Yerevan or Baku, that is, the capitals of present-day Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

But somehow this great Russian literature fails to portray and reflect on the highly multicultural, polyethnic and multiconfessional character of the Russian Empire. In their day-to-day lives Russian writers did see and interact with numerous non-Russian and non-Orthodox subjects of the tsar, because the state’s capital of St Petersburg and the empire biggest city of Moscow teemed with them. At different times, military service, business, civil service placements, pleasure trips and exile brought most authors of the Russian literary canon to the ethnically non-Russian borderlands (that is, Russia’s unacknowledged colonies[81]). Yet, they remained loyal to the ethnolinguistically and confessionally defined ‘Russian idea’[82] of focusing on ethnically Russian topics and characters. Until the Bolshevik Revolution, Russian literature was unabashedly elitist and chauvinist. It zoomed on this fifth of Russia’s nobles who were ethnic Russians, entailing a group of as few as 400,000 people, or at best around one million, if all the nobles fluent in Russian were taken into consideration.[83] This group amounted to a mere half a percent of the inhabitants of the Russian Empire who numbered 166 million in 1914.[84]

Furthermore, the majority of writers who contributed to ‘great Russian literature’ preferred not to see their country’s colonial wars and tragedies caused by military expeditions dispatched to the empire’s far-flung corners. Among others, the ethnic cleansing and the unprecedented genocide of Circassians in 1864 somehow did not register even in a tiniest of Russian short stories, and not even in a single press article published in Russian. The entire Black Sea littoral and the adjacent mountainous hinterland from Georgia to Crimea were ‘emptied’ of its Caucasian-speaking Muslim population that had lived in this region from the times immemorial. Survivors fled across the sea to the Ottoman Empire. Desperate voyages of this type were perilous, thousands of Circassian genocide survivors died at high seas. In a couple of years, the former Circassia was repopulated with Slavophone Orthodox settlers, and the region’s old name was erased from the Russian annals of imperial history.[85],[86] To this day no commentators make the obvious link between this bloodbath and the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The Ottomans did not invent the technology of genocide, they learned it from the Russians.

These are clear limitations of Russian belles lettres, a sign of how Russian imperial writers stuck both to their Russian language, Orthodox Christianity and their noble estate, mostly refusing to write about anything or anyone else. In the Soviet Union, for Russophone authors the range of prescribed topics and characters broadened to take in all the strata of Russian society, but to the exclusion of the unacknowledged colonials who spoke and wrote in other languages than Russian. Officially, literature in the Soviet Union’s republican languages was encouraged, but often the publication of novels composed in Belarusian, Kyrgyz or Ukrainian was delayed, so that Russian translations of these novels could come off the press first. Furthermore, during the Soviet period, translations of such books into Western languages was allowed only from Russian translations, which created a conviction that in the Soviet Union Belarusian, Kyrgyz or Ukrainian writers wrote in Russian and, thus, contributed to the body of ‘great Russian literature.’[87] Another conviction generated by these strictures was that Soviet literature(s) written other languages than Russian was of poor quality. More often than not a German or French translation of a Ukrainian-language novel conducted from a hasty Russian philological translation hardly conveyed the beauty and intricate plot of the Ukrainian original.

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Looking Forward: Ukrainian Studies and the West

Such limitations and blind spots of Russian literature could be at long last honestly and openly addressed, alongside the Soviet Union’s and present-day Russian Federation’s Russifying stereotypes and mechanisms of suppressing the country’s non-Russophone literatures and cultures.[88] In turn, when inescapably discussing Anna Karenina or The Brothers Karamazov, students could be pushed further, for instance, to reflect on why they cannot see in these novels characters who speak other languages of the Russian Empire, belong to other social layers than the nobility, or confess other faiths than Orthodox Christianity. On this basis, they would be ready to dissect the tacit but widely and unthinkingly accepted definition of Russian literature, which makes this subject such a narrow and blinkered pursuit. Then students would be in position to open wide a window in this stuffy disciplinary cabin to roam more freely, following their clear realization that both in tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, writers composed and published excellent, outstanding and even timeless novels, stories, plays and poetry in a plethora of languages, for instance, Henryk Sienkiewicz and Władysław Reymont in Polish, while Frans Eemil Sillanpää in Finnish. All three became laureates of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1905, 1924 and 1939, respectively.

But let us mention some other ethnically non-Russian (Rossiiskii) authors from tsarist Russia, be it Peter Ernst Wilde who wrote in German and Estonian, Johan Ludvig Runeberg in Swedish, Oskar Luts in Estonian, Julie Hausmann in German, Rainis in Latvian, Lithuanian poet Oscar Milosz who wrote in French, Maironis in Lithuanian, Janka Kupała (Ivan Łucevič) in Belarusian, Lesya Ukrainka (Larysa Kosach) and Taras Shevchenko in Ukrainian, Joseph Conrad (Iosif Fiodor Konrad Korzhenevskii) in English, Clarice Lispector (Khaia Pinkasivna Lispektor) in Portuguese; Hryhorii (Gregory) Skovoroda (Gregorius Scovoroda) in Latin, Greek, (Church) Slavonic, Ruthenian (Ukrainian) and Muscovian (Russian); Stefan Yavorsky (Simeon Ivanovich Yavorsky) in Latin, Polish and (Church) Slavonic; Ismail Gasprinsky (İsmail Gaspıralı) in Crimean Tatar and Arabic, Samuil Lehtțir in Moldavian (Romanian), Khachatur Abovian in Armenian, Raphael Eristavi in Georgian, or Jalil Mammadguluzadeh (Cəlil Məmmədquluzadə) in Azerbaijani (Azeri).

On top of that, the three towering figures who invented and shaped modern literature in Yiddish, namely, Mendele Mocher Sforim (Sholem Yankev Abramovich), Sholem Aleichem (Solomon Rabinovich) and Isaac Leib Peretz, were the Russian tsar’s subjects, too. Likewise, many creators of modern Hebrew literature were based in the Russian Empire, among others, Mordecai Aaron Günzburg (Aaron Mordekhai Gintsburg) and Abraham Mapu (Abram Mapu). This milieu spawned the creator of Ivrit (Modern Hebrew), Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (Leizer Itskhok Perelman) and the first great authors who wrote in it, for example, Hayim Nahman Bialik (Khaim Iosifovich Bialik) and Moshe Smilansky. The first Ivrit-language winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature (1966), Shmuel Yosef Agnon (Czaczkes) was born in Galicia, Austria-Hungary, but nowadays his hometown of Buchach is located in Ukraine. The situation is more straightforward in the case of the world’s sole Yiddish winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature (1978) Isaac Bashevis Singer (Itskhok Zinger), who was born as a Russian subject.

A similar list for Soviet authors writing in the communist state’s numerous indigenous languages would be much longer. However, due to the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Kremlin’s current policy of neo-Russification,[89],[90] such a group of ethnically non-Russian authors who keep writing in their ethnic languages shrinks rapidly across the Russian Federation. Per annum a mere one thousand publications (mostly school textbooks) are brought out in these languages – spoken by over a fifth of Russia’s inhabitants.[91] This number accounts for less than 1 percent of all book titles produced in the country.[92] Yet more curiously, although at two million, Ukrainians are present-day Russia’s second largest national minority after the Tatars,[93] not a single Ukrainian-language book has been published in the Russian Federation during the past three decades.[94] In comparison, between the late Soviet period and the 2010s, the percentage of Russian-language book titles produced in Ukraine decreased only gradually from 75 percent[95] to 25 percent in the country’s overall book production.[96] But prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, because of uncontrolled publication imports from Russia, as many as half of the books on offer in Ukraine’s bookstores were actually in Russian.[97] However, ethnic Russians constitute just 17 percent of Ukraine’s population, while the country’s all ethnically non-Ukrainians amount to 22 percent.[98]

Moscow pays much attention to the supposedly ‘endangered position’ of the Russian language in Ukraine.[99] At times the Russian propaganda resorts even to the alarmist label ‘genocide of Russian-speakers.’[100],[101] Meanwhile, absolutely nothing is done to address the de facto suppression of Ukrainian language and culture in Russia itself. What is more, across the Ukrainian territories under Russian occupation, Russian administrators brand Ukrainian-language books as ‘nazi’ or ‘extremist’ literature. Subsequently, these publications are summarily confiscated from the libraries and bookstores to be destroyed through incineration or bulldozing them into the ground.[102],[103] In order not to miss a single offending book title, the occupation administration err on the side of caution. For instance, recently Russian administrators ordered the blanket destruction of all Ukrainian books published after 1991, be it children picture books with no words or Ukrainian publications in Russian.[104],[105]

In this neo-imperial context of building a homogenously Russophone Russian world (which is none other than a renewed Russian Empire) with all means available, it is not surprising at all that the Kremlin actively stays silent on Russian (or the Russian Federation’s) literature(s), which is composed in over thirty languages that formally function as official in the country’s autonomous republics. Yet, this continuing highly multicultural, polyglot and multiethnic character of today’s Russia is the very starting point and the leading subject matter of Alyssa DeBlasio and Izolda Savenkova’s exciting and innovative textbook Pro-dvizhenie: Advanced Russian through Film and Media (Georgetown University Press 2022).[106]

Professor DeBlasio informed me that the textbook’s main methodological goal is to break with the outdated focus of Russian language textbooks on the ethnic Russians (Russkie) in the (post?) imperial urban centers of Moscow and St Petersburg, alongside the closely related traditional canon of Russian culture and literature.[107] The obvious model emulated in this case are typical textbooks of English language and culture. They do not by default concentrate exclusively on London, but rather roam widely and freely across the countries where English is used as a significant language of communication, be it in Canada, New Zealand, Pakistan or Nigeria, among others. Likewise, Russian is spoken and written also by non-ethnic Russians (Rossiianie), who are Russian citizens, for instance, in the country’s autonomous republics of Sakha and Tatarstan, alongside the republican (and now increasingly suppressed) languages of Tatar and Sakha. Similarly, in Mongolia and Israel, numerous citizens of both countries employ Russian side by side with their state languages of Mongolian and Hebrew, respectively. That is why, this aforementioned new textbook features a Russian-speaking Tatar, Dagestani, Bashkir, Sakha (Yakut), Tat, Kazakh, Armenian and Kalmyk, together with reading passages about Sakha, Belarus and Israel. As a results, in the follow-up exercises students are free to choose whatever Russian-speaking nation, state, community they want to discuss. There is nothing that requires that they focus on the imperial and ethnically Russian (Russkii) core of the Russian Federation alone.

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Unwittingly, Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine accelerated changes in the direction of acknowledging this multiethnic and polyglot world, where Russian is used as a second or third language of intercommunal communication. Immediately after the outbreak of this war, most Western students of Russian learning at partner institutions in Russia were evacuated from this country to prevent the Kremlin from turning them into hostages or pawns of high politics.[108],[109] For instance, this is the case of the students enrolled in the Russian language program at the University of St Andrews. Now they continue their year abroad to master Russian in Estonia’s predominantly Russophone city of Narva. And again, as in the case of English that can be acquired in the streets of London, Valletta, Ottawa or Sydney, only now university educators and administrators in the West wake up to the realization that the same is possible in regard of Russian. That apart from Moscow and St Petersburg, Russian can be also acquired in any other post-Soviet country, together with Israel, Germany or Mongolia.

My pedagogical appetite whetted by the innovative language textbook of Russian, now I wait for a critical textbook of multilingual Russian literature be it in the tsarist empire or the Soviet Union, or even better for a ground-breaking textbook of Russia’s fruitfully entangled literatures in plural. The situation is similar to multilingual, polyconfessional and multiethnic Austria-Hungary, where authors wrote in different languages, though tended to know and use German (or more rarely Hungarian, and earlier Latin) for communicating with fellow citizens and literati who did not know their given ethnic language, be it Croatian, Bosnian, Czech, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian or Ukrainian. Hence, Austro-Hungarians authors do not fit in typical ethnonational slots of this or that present-day nation-state.

For example, this is the story of Franz Kafka who wrote in German and after the break-up of the Dual Monarchy became a Czechoslovak writer. Yet, he did not change the language of his writings, though he knew Czech and Yiddish.[110] The Holocaust that took place one decade and a half after his premature death in 1924 made it impossible to define Kafka as a German (or Austrian) writer, and thus made him into a Jewish author.[111] Prior to World War II, all his papers were relocated to Mandatory Palestine,[112] which became Israel in 1948. Thus, Kafka became an honorary Israeli author,[113],[114] and also a Czech writer,[115] following the breakup of Czechoslovakian in 1993. When researchers disagree on the ethnic or national belonging of Kafka, they often finally concede that above all he was a Prague writer.[116]

Similarly multicultural stories lurk in the biographies and careers of most tsarist Russia’s and Soviet-period ethnically non-Russian (Rossiiskii) writers whose lives straddled radically different states and political systems. Their life stories became extremely complicated not so much due to emigration, but rather the causes of their identificational and other choices and transformations rested in the seismic political upheavals experienced during the dark 20th century. Commemoration of such authors and the reception of their works changes accordingly in the wake of their deaths, when another cataclysm of a similar magnitude strikes again. This was the case of the breakup of the Soviet Union. And now the Kremlin’s brutal and unjustified attack on Ukraine has initiated yet another huge shift in political configurations and identity-shaping policies both across the post-Soviet space and in the West.

We would not think it sensible or advisable to study Czech language and culture exclusively through Austro-Hungarian material published in German or only after mastering Russian or German as the entry prerequisite. Likewise, it is high time to restructure the Russo-centric syllabus of Slavic studies in the West, so that the field’s promising name would cease concealing the entailed dominance of Russian language and culture. It would be strange and most inappropriate that consciously or not Western scholars in their research and teaching would continue doing the bidding of the present-day Kremlin’s neo-imperial ideology of the Russian world. This is cutting the branch of democracy, liberalism and civic freedoms, which constitute the value fundament of the West.

Ukrainian language and culture – like those of Bulgaria, Czechia, Croatia, Poland or Slovakia – should be studied and appreciated in their own right, which with regard to the Germanic languages is the regular case of Danish, Dutch, Norwegian or Swedish. And given the ongoing war in which Ukraine under Russian attack is fighting not only for its survival, but also for security and democracy in Europe, it is of import that the field of Ukrainian studies be swiftly developed. Yes, it must be a political decision, as the founding of Slavic (Russian) studies originally was in 1946. Now, let us be clear-eyed about it, successful communication with Ukrainian partners is a top priority, together with a thorough knowledge and appreciation of Ukrainian culture, customs and literature. Apart from enjoying Ukrainian belles lettres, the goal is improved cooperation between Ukraine and the West for repelling and containing today’s totalitarian and neo-imperial Russia.

August 2022

[1] I thank the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center at Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan for support and making it possible for me to research and write this essay. The opinions and arguments presented in the article are the author’s, and do not represent any official position on the part of the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center.

[2] Владимир Кочин. 2016. РУССКИЙ ЯЗЫК — ПРЕДМЕТ ПОЛИТИЧЕСКИЙ (pp 21-28). СТРАТЕГИЯ РОССИИ. No 6, p 26. https://istina.msu.ru/media/publications/article/93c/16e/22524072/str_6_2016.pdf.

[3] https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/03/1113152

[4] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_22_1423

[5] https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_192648.htm

[6] https://cor.europa.eu/en/news/Pages/fight-ukraine-democracy-fight-europe-democracy.aspx

[7] https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/stronger-europe-world/eu-solidarity-ukraine_en

[8] https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/3522/all-info

[9] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20220616IPR33216/grant-eu-candidate-status-to-ukraine-and-moldova-without-delay-meps-demand

[10] https://www.csis.org/analysis/european-union-imposes-partial-ban-russian-oil

[11] https://www.bruegel.org/2022/07/european-union-demand-reduction-needs-to-cope-with-russian-gas-cuts

[12] https://berlinpolicyjournal.com/russia-wants-to-destabilize-europe/

[13] https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/eu-says-dependence-fossil-fuels-is-funding-russian-war-chest-2022-03-17/

[14] https://www.nato.int/cyberdefence/

[15] https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/uk-says-strengthen-internet-laws-fight-russian-disinformation-2022-07-04/

[16] https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?locations=RU

[17] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_the_European_Union

[18] Enzo Traverso. 2011. L’histoire comme champ de bataille. Interpréter les violences du XXe siècle. Paris: La Découverte.

[19] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-61017352

[20] https://ui.org.ua/en/sectors-en/russkiy-mir-foundation-2/

[21] Mehrsprachigkeit bei Kindern und Erwachsenen. 2005. Berlin: Bundesministerium des Innern, Referat Öffentlichkeitsarbeit, pp 167-170. https://web.archive.org/web/20070820124909/http://www.bmi.bund.de/Internet/Content/Common/Anlagen/Broschueren/2006/Migrationsbericht__2005%2CtemplateId%3Draw%2Cproperty%3DpublicationFile.pdf/Migrationsbericht_2005.pdf.

[22] https://russkiymir.ru/en/rucenter/

[23] https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/07/24/world/ukraine-russia-war

[24] https://russkiymir.ru/en/rucenter/

[25] https://ui.org.ua/en/sectors-en/en-research-analytics/gorchakov-diplomacy-fund-2/

[26] https://www.jstor.org/stable/41858661

[27] http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/672/containment-and-the-cold-war-reexaming-the-doctrine-of-containment-as-a-grand-strategy-driving-us-cold-war-interventions

[28] https://src-h.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/coe21/publish/no32_ses/David%20Wolff.pdf

[29] https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.185585/page/n213/mode/2up?view=theater

[30] https://harriman.columbia.edu/about-us/

[31] https://src-h.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/coe21/publish/no32_ses/David%20Wolff.pdf

[32] https://slavic.yale.edu/undergraduate-program

[33] https://www.worlddata.info/languages/russian.php

[34] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/15/briefing/russia-ukraine-war-culture.html

[35] https://regnum.ru/news/polit/3524944.html

[36] https://www.ed.ac.uk/studying/undergraduate/degrees/index.php?action=programme&code=RL74

[37] https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/subjects/russian/

[38] https://envoyexcellency.com/russia-india-cultural-cooperation/

[39] https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/mono/10.4324/9781003100188-7/russian-pluricentric-language-tomasz-kamusella

[40] Владимир Кочин. 2016. РУССКИЙ ЯЗЫК — ПРЕДМЕТ ПОЛИТИЧЕСКИЙ (pp 21-28). СТРАТЕГИЯ РОССИИ. No 6. https://istina.msu.ru/media/publications/article/93c/16e/22524072/str_6_2016.pdf.

[41] https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-11-07/for-russia-even-the-language-can-be-a-weapon

[42] https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/putin-is-the-only-winner-of-ukraines-language-wars/

[43] https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/09/12/self-immolation-highlights-controversy-over-cultural-rights-russia

[44] https://euromaidanpress.com/2019/09/29/moscow-has-long-sought-to-destroy-slavic-languages-other-than-russian-zolotaryev-says/

[45] Николай Корнацкий. 2015. «Если нам дадут большие бюджеты — везде будет русский флаг». Известия. 22 Jul. https://iz.ru/news/589034.

[46] https://mkset.ru/news/society/26-07-2022/kak-rossiya-sozdala-rumyniyu

[47] https://alaskapublic.org/2022/07/06/putins-aide-threatens-to-claim-back-alaska-in-response-to-us-sanctions/

[48] https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-europe-38099842

[49] https://www.rbth.com/arts/334786-100-masterpieces-russian-literature

[50] https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9781932650174

[51] https://ysia.ru/glava-yakutii-russkij-yazyk-odin-iz-samyh-razvityh-i-bogatyh-yazykov-eto-zhivaya-dusha-naroda/

[52] http://www.voskres.ru/bogoslovie/loshchits.htm

[53] https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2022/04/19/russia-boosts-arts-funding-as-sanctions-start-to-bite

[54] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/20/russians-feel-sting-of-cultural-and-economic-rift-sanctions-ukraine

[55] https://russtrat.ru/russkiy-geopoliticheskiy-kod/10-iyulya-2022-1740-11027

[56] https://bigthink.com/the-present/cancelling-russia-culture-sanctions/

[57] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/may/27/britain-boycott-russian-culture-putin-war-ukraine

[58] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2022/03/ukraine-russia-culture-boycott-putin/623873/

[59] https://russkiymir.ru/news/299605/?sphrase_id=1230901

[60] https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/cancel-russian-culture-art-literature-counter-productive-by-nina-l-khrushcheva-2022-06

[61] https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/why-russian-literature-shouldnt-be-cancelled

[62] https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202203/1253874.shtml

[63] https://www.pravda.com.ua/eng/news/2022/05/25/7348488/

[64] https://kyivindependent.com/news-feed/official-teachers-in-mariupol-sent-to-russia-for-retraining

[65] https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-russify-schools-invasion-parental-rights/31936097.html

[66] https://interkomitet.com/about-the-committee/blogs/nikonov/vyacheslav-nikonov-russia-is-supported-by-7-billion-people-on-all-continents/

[67] https://www.mk.ru/culture/2022/06/20/glupaya-istoriya-sergey-lukyanenko-vyskazalsya-o-zaprete-russkikh-knig-na-ukraine.html

[68] https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/russian-official-blames-sanctions-cancel-culture-1316045/

[69] https://www.dw.com/en/ukraine-bans-russian-music-and-books/a-62305280

[70] https://tsargrad.tv/news/otmena-russkoj-kultury-v-rossii-otvetili-na-demarsh-litvy-protiv-patriarha-kirilla_593582

[71] https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2022/03/the-cancellation-of-russian-culture

[72] https://www.hup.harvard.edu/collection.php?cpk=3173

[73] https://www.facebook.com/keiorussian/photos/a.542384219235892/2330799053727724/?type=3&theater

[74] I thank Dr Kirill Zoubkov, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow for discussing this subject.

[75] https://lgz.ru/article/-23-6418-5-06-2013/a-byl-li-pushkin-negrom/

[76] The Life of Alexander Pushkin (Ser: Golden Legacy Illustrated History Magazine, Vol. 14). 1972. Dix Hills NY: Fitzgerald Publishing Co.

[77] https://src-h.slav.hokudai.ac.jp/sympo/97summer/mironov.html

[78] http://www.demoscope.ru/weekly/ssp/sng_nac_89.php

[79] Seymour Becker. 1985. Nobility and Privilege in Late Imperial Russia. DeKalb IL: Northern Illinois University Press, p 182.

[80] Malte Rolf. 2020. Nationalizing an Empire: The Bolsheviks, the Nationality Question, and Policies of Indigenization in the Soviet Union (1917-1927) (pp 65-86). In: Xosé M. Núñez Seixas, ed. The First World War and the Nationality Question in Europe: Global Impact and Local Dynamics (Ser: National Cultivation of Culture, Vol. 23). Leiden: Brill, p 66. https://brill.com/view/book/9789004442245/BP000005.xml.

[81] https://brill.com/view/journals/css/52/1/article-p1_1.xml

[82] https://rvb.ru/dostoevski/01text/vol11/1860/74.htm

[83] https://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/books/former-people-the-decline-and-fall-of-russias-glittering-aristocracy/

[84] https://spartacus-educational.com/FWWinRussia.htm

[85] https://web.archive.org/web/20120702174523/https://www.reuters.com/article/2009/05/22/idUS104971%2B22-May-2009%2BPRN20090522

[86] Walter Richmond. 2013. The Circassian Genocide. New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press.

[87] https://euroradio.fm/chamu-bykau-ne-zapatrabavany-u-suchasnay-moladzi

[88] https://theconversation.com/russia-is-cracking-down-on-minority-languages-but-a-resistance-movement-is-growing-101493

[89] https://www.idelreal.org/a/28937644.html

[90] http://kremlin.ru/events/president/news/55109

[91] https://web.archive.org/web/20121208222034/http://www.gks.ru/free_doc/new_site/perepis2010/croc/Documents/Materials/pril2_dok2.xlsx

[92] https://nazaccent.ru/content/32172-bolee-tysyachi-knig-na-yazykah-narodov.html

[93] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnic_groups_in_Russia

[94] В. В. Григорьев. 2021. Книжный рынок России Состояние, тенденции и перспективы развития. Moscow: Министерство цифрового развития, связи и массовых коммуникаций Российской Федерации, p 15-16. https://bookunion.ru/upload/files/conferense-2021-knijnui-runok.pdf

[95] https://glavcom.ua/ru/think/kak-sovetskaya-vlast-ubivala-ukrainskuyu-literaturu-862049.html

[96] https://www.istpravda.com.ua/articles/4cd938c39fe8a/

[97] https://biz.nv.ua/ukr/experts/knigi-rosiyskoyu-v-ukrajini-yak-peremozhe-ukrajinomovniy-kontent-ostanni-novini-50253937.html

[98] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Ukraine#After_World_War_II

[99] http://cup.columbia.edu/book/language-policy-and-discourse-on-languages-in-ukraine-under-president-viktor-yanukovych/9783838204970

[100] https://www.bbc.com/russian/rolling_news/2014/09/140929_rn_skr_genocide_charges

[101] https://meduza.io/news/2022/08/02/vo-vkontakte-dmitriya-medvedeva-poyavilsya-i-propal-post-o-tom-chto-gruziya-dolzhna-stat-chastyu-rossii-a-v-kazahstane-ustroili-genotsid-russkih

[102] https://biz.nv.ua/experts/rossiyane-szhigayut-ukrainskie-knigi-pochemu-eto-im-ne-pomozhet-poslednie-novosti-50230200.html

[103] https://ru.espreso.tv/pod-mariupolem-okkupanty-unichtozhayut-ukrainoyazychnye-knigi-sovetnik-mera

[104] https://2day.kh.ua/ru/kharkow/okkupanty-prikazali-unichtozhat-ukrainskie-knigi-na-zakhvachennykh-territoriyakh

[105] https://ukranews.com/news/871543-rossiyane-gotovyatsya-unichtozhat-ukrainskie-knigi-na-nekotoryh-okkupirovannyh-zemlyah-harkovshhiny

[106] http://press.georgetown.edu/book/georgetown/pro-dvizhenie

[107] I thank Prof Alyssa DeBlasio for discussing this forthcoming textbook and its methodologically innovative character.

[108] https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/university-staff-evacuate-students-from-russia-after-invasion-of-ukraine/

[109] https://www.glasgowworld.com/news/people/university-of-glasgow-helps-students-in-russia-who-faced-being-stranded-after-ukraine-invasion-3593456

[110] Suchoff, David. 2012. Kafka’s Jewish Languages: The Hidden Openness of Tradition. Philadelphia PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

[111] https://www.spisovatele.cz/franz-kafka

[112] https://web.nli.org.il/sites/nli/english/library/news/pages/kafka_papers_trove.aspx

[113] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/view-assortment-franz-kafkas-letters-and-drawings-online-180977909/

[114] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-49269557

[115] https://citaty.net/citaty/14267-franz-kafka-kdo-hleda-nenajde-ale-kdo-nehleda-bude-nalezen/

[116] https://sk.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Kafka

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